The Broncos first trip at the Horsehoe was an unpleasant one.
On a day when they needed to be perfect, the Broncos were there early on but mistakes killed drives and the Buckeyes eventually powered their way to a 38-12 victory at home. The first quarter was especially tough, with a dominating time of possession mark, but no points to show for it. However, Ezekiel Elliott was too much to handle in the long run, as the Buckeyes showed why they're the defending national champions.
The Broncos actually started slow. After a three-and-out, Elliott would bust a 26-yard rush. Cardale Jones, returning to starter after being benched against NIU a week ago, hurried his offense and found a wide-open Michael Thomas for a 38 yard touchdown to open the scoring barely one hundred seconds in.
But PJ Fleck's squad just continued to row the boat. Their offensive line would hold their own against a powerful Buckeye squad - led by future NFL first round pick Joey Bosa - allowing Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin to gain solid gains on long, sustained drives. The two would combine for 14 carries and 87 yards in the first quarter, and would help the Broncos out with a nearly 10 minute time of possession advantage. However, both drives would stall due to holding penalties - the first on a Bogan touchdown, the second on a Franklin first down inside the 5-yard line - and result in missed field goals. The first was blocked, but the second was mis-hit into the line and well short.
After the second missed attempt, the Buckeyes quickly struck to extend their lead to 14-0 on a Jalin Marshall 37-yard touchdown catch, another wide-open catch. The Broncos would answer on a deep pass to Daniel Braverman, as he broke a tackle down the sideline en route to a 55-yard score. A missed PAT would again haunt the Broncos, as kicker Andrew Haldeman's reliability had appeared to be called into question.
Another mistake would follow, as a three-and-out would be negated by a deep punt downed at the one yard line. Braverman, handling punt returning duties, elected not to fair catch the punt at the 20, and the ball rolled favorably in solid Ohio State coverage. The Broncos, backed up in their own end zone, would be forced to punt and the Buckeyes used the short field to yield a field goal.
On the very next play, another mistake - or rather, probably a #PIESMAN entry - as Zach Terrell tried to hit Franklin on a dump screen. However, Adolphus Washington snatched the ball out of the air, and rumbled 20 yards for a touchdown to make it 24-6 Buckeyes late in the half. The Broncos would punt again, and the Buckeyes would run out the clock on their next drive, nearly scoring from the red zone.
After the half, Elliott rushed five times on a 14 play, 4:10 drive that resulted in a 6-yard touchdown rush. The Broncos would find their groove with Bogan in their first drive, with Terrell hitting a beautiful floating pass to Jeremiah Mullinax for a touchdown, but a missed two point conversion would again mar an otherwise flawless drive.
Two more big Elliott runs on the next Buckeye drive seemed to signal another time killer by Urban Meyer's squad. However, Jones would make take a shot at the end zone and would get picked off by Darius Phillips, his fourth pass break-up on the night. Three straight punts would ensue before the Buckeyes would put the nail in the coffin on a Curtis Samuel 40-yard touchdown run.
The Broncos struggled to get anything going in the air, targeting Corey Davis late and finding little luck. J.T. Barrett would enter the game, but would be intercepted by Phillips (his third interception of the season). The Broncos would play out the stretch, but would not yield points before the clock ran out on the 38-12 loss.
Terrell finished 18-for-33 with 169 yards and the pair of touchdowns. His lone interception was the pick-six, but the Ohio State secondary made things rough nevertheless. Bogan led the team in carries with 23, gaining 93 yards at a 4.0 yard/carry clip. Franklin was second with 12 carries for 68 yards and a 5.7 yard/carry number. Overall, the Broncos averaged 4.1 yards/rush against a solid Buckeye front. Braverman led the Broncos receivers at 10 catches, for 123 yards and a score. Corey Davis finished with 6 catches for 42 yards.
For the Buckeyes, Cardale finished 19-for-33 with 288 yards and the two scores. His lone interception was late in the 3rd quarter on a lob to the end zone. Elliott finished with 124 yards on just 16 carries and had his score. Thomas led all Buckeye receivers with 6 catches for 80 yards and a score.
Overall, the Broncos didn't do terribly. The secondary had issues with coverage at times, with the two scores to show for their mistakes, but the run defense did well early on to give the offense a shot at keeping it close. Darius Phillips appears to be an exciting cornerback, with three interceptions over his last two games and a threat on the return game. Ultimately, the penalties (two holding calls on freshman John Keenoy) brought back scoring chances that led to field goal attempts that were taken by Andrew Haldeman. Haldeman will face some heat this week, with the missed PAT and the poor strike on the second missed field goal adding to a long record of missed opportunities.
For Ohio State, they now seem to have a solid grasp on their No 1 slot in the rankings, and Cardale Jones will sit easily as QB1 for the Buckeyes. The Broncos have a week off to rest and heal from a grueling non-conference schedule - where they played the top two teams in the AP Poll and a solid Georgia Southern team - and return to face rival Central Michigan to open MAC play on October 10th at home.